History of the Think Tanks on Poverty
In 2014, community members in Newark, including local leaders active with St. Vincent de Paul, gathered together to discuss what is keeping members of the community stuck in poverty. They knew that one more food pantry or one more clothing drive would not change the circumstances of people struggling to pay their bills each month.
The residents decided to form an organization that would respond to poverty in the community not through charity, but through community organizing. Together, we could work to make structural and policy changes that could impact the whole community, not just help people one at a time. The Newark Think Tank on Poverty was formed.
Since then, a 501c3 was formed called the Vincentian Ohio Action Network (VOAN) specifically focused on supporting this systemic change work. The Think Tanks on Poverty have also expanded from Newark to local Think Tanks on Poverty now in Perry County, Zanesville, Lancaster. The Think Tanks on Poverty have been featured in dozens of local and national news stories. We've led the charge to help pass various local and statewide policies. We've worked with community leaders, government leaders, and faith-based communities, holding numerous community meetings and events.
VOAN and the Think Tanks on Poverty work on community education, leadership development, coalition building, storytelling, strategy, and developing the power needed in the community to make the changes we seek -- one step at a time. We have obtained seats at the table and worked on a range of issues across Central Ohio, including addiction and recovery, housing and homelessness, criminal justice and reentry, broadband internet, and youth prevention.
The Think Tanks on Poverty seek to give voice to working and poor people to challenge the systemic issues that keep them in poverty. Systemic change is of two kinds -- We may change a policy or law, but the most important and long-lasting systemic change is when we change how decisions are made so they include working and poor people. While doing this primary work, we also attempt to address hunger, employment, transportation, housing, injustice, and other basic needs of our organizing members so that they may continue building the community.
This program has been made possible by the generous support of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and St. Vincent de Paul Diocesan Council. VOAN and the Think Tanks on Poverty have also been supported in various ways by dozens of other local partners and local community funders who believe in our work.